Shadowrun: Hong Kong dropped on Thursday, and I beat it Sunday night. For anyone measuring games by hours played, I clocked 35 hours in it of which I was actively playing probably about 25-28. I definitely did not see everything the game had to offer, and I’m going to write more about it specifically a bit later, but if you liked the previous games, this is yet another improvement on the series.
I really love the Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun games; each new one focuses on improving the weaknesses of the previous one while still doing some new stuff. What I want when I get a new one is, essentially, more of the same, just a little fancier. It’s worth noting that I play more or less the same character when I jump into it, too, and I still find each one interesting and fun.
I’m trying to wrap my head around why I’m so happy with a new Shadowrun game that is, for all intents and purposes, more of the same, yet I got tired with the Assassin’s Creed series, despite it branching out a lot more. In a similar vein, I grew tired of Rock Band releases but I pick up each new Civilization game.
Assassin’s Creed 4 holds the answer for me. After the story arc of Desmond completed in AC3 (full disclosure: I never beat AC3 as I was kind of tired of the series), AC4 picks up with a new story and a new set of characters. It’s more self-contained and shows me a different slice of the world. Similarly, Shadowrun games reboot with each one, introducing me to a new piece of the setting and a new story and characters. Each new Civ game is a new set of mechanics with a new world to, well, civilize (and I especially liked Civ: Beyond Earth because it was sci-fi).
I want new stories and new characters once I’ve had the catharsis of finishing a story arc. My favorite book series is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which jumps to new characters and new slices of the world constantly. I love the original Star wars trilogy, but for all that people raved over the Thrawn books, I never got into them, because I felt like the story of those characters was done. I didn’t need any more (and, indeed, the return of ‘classic’ characters in the upcoming Episode 7 is the least interesting thing about it for me).
I tend to lose interest when I have to wait for a show to release episodes– things aren’t moving quickly enough for me and I’d prefer to experience it all at once, or in big, super-immersive chunks. When I engage with a story, I dive deep, and I want the whole thing. It’s one of the reasons that I have trouble with games and stories that’re thin or very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I want worlds that leave a lot to my imagination and let it run wild with the possibilities, and get frustrated when there isn’t enough for me to really sink my teeth into. I think it’s why I had so much fun with Transistor and was frustrated by the ending of There Came an Echo– I felt like the former left a really big world with a lot of weird cool stories that I only got to see hints of, whereas the latter opened the curtains a little too much and just told me everything, eliminating any space for my imagination to wander through.
I think a story is made up of both what it tells and what it doesn’t tell, and both are important. As Kodra likes to put it, those parts of the story that aren’t told are where fanfic lives, and I think he’s dead on. It’s a place for the imagination to run wild, and as a storyteller it’s important for me to leave some stories told and others untold– sometimes you want to leave some things to the imagination.
When something captures my attention and shows me a piece of a big world, I want more of that, and as long as I can get more bits without feeling like it’s gotten same-y, I’m hooked and want more of the same. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, though I understand when people get bored of the same sort of game. I also think I lean very heavily towards preferring untold stories that are merely hinted at. It’s how I get inspired for my own creative work, and I can’t be disappointed by a story that exists only in my imagination.
That is, I think, what I love about the Shadowrun series– it’s a simple story with lots of branches that are chock-full of suggested-but-untold stories, leaving my mind to fill in the rest. One of the best tabletop games I’ve ever run was built on setting up the potential untold stories that occur before you finish character creation in an MMO– how did you get to where you were when you started the game? I got to tell that story right up until the launch of SWTOR, at which point (most of) my players were able to go straight into the game with a character they felt strongly about, that was well-defined and interesting.
It was a great experience, and one I’d love to do again given the opportunity. It would, of course, require that my players wanted more of the same as well. I’ve got some time to think about it– we’re still hip-deep in another game that’s yet to fully unfold.